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New drug law leads to fewer people awaiting trial in jail

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HARTFORD — The Malloy administration says changes in Connecticut’s drug laws have cut in half the number of people in jail awaiting trial for simple drug possession.

The state Office of Policy and Management says there were 83 people in pre-trial detention Wednesday on drug possession charges in Connecticut, down from 166 in October.

Mike Lawlor, the state’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, says that’s because bails have been much lower since the crime was reclassified on Oct. 1 from a felony to a misdemeanor.

According to the Safety and Justice Challenge fact sheet, the average length of pre-trial stay in Connecticut jails is six weeks.

Lawlor says the idea is that people arrested for possession need treatment, not prison.

The number of those still in prison after being sentenced for possession also is down, from 341 in October to 277. Lawlor says most of those were sentenced for crimes committed before the law changed.

The changes to the law included eliminating a mandatory two-year prison term for possessing drugs within 1,500 feet of a school.

State officials estimate the new law will save Connecticut about $19 million in prison costs over the next two years by decreasing the prison population.

The McArther Safety and Justice Challenge Initiative granted the state $2.5 million to reduce the jail population by 18 percent, or 816 individuals, between July 2016 and July 2018 by deflecting low-risk, high-need offenders into mental health programs, and giving alternatives to long pre-trial and pre-arraignment stays for those who cannot afford to post bail.